Crossbows are terrific weapons to hunt with. You only need to load your bolt and cock the weapon once, until you’re ready to shoot. You don’t have to hold back the draw weight, or even half the draw weight, which makes it easier on the arms and shoulders. Because there’s no holding, there’s no fatigue.
All that convenience comes at a price. How do you unload a crossbow safely when you’re done hunting? Do you shoot your bolt into the ground and hope to not damage it? Do you ignore all the safety issues and dry fire the weapon (do not do this!), praying it doesn’t crack your crossbow’s limbs? There are better ways!
Why Unloading/Decocking is Important
Unloading or decocking your crossbow is important because you need to put your crossbow in a safe condition before transporting and storing it. Otherwise, you have a lot of tension and stored energy in the crossbow’s arms. Carrying a crossbow loaded is a lot like carrying a loaded gun. You don’t want to accidentally bump the trigger and cause a misfire, nor do you want to keep all that energy in crossbow while you’re not hunting. Dry firing is bad for your crossbow because it can seriously damage or even break your weapon — with catastrophic results!
The good news is that there are three ways to safely unload your crossbow. There are products available that will help you unload it easily and safely, without dry firing, and without damaging your hunting bolts and broadheads. Be aware that all require some degree of firing the weapon, which means knowing where you point your crossbow at all times and firing it in a safe and controlled manner. Obviously, you will need to unload your crossbow in an area where you are allowed to do that. That means observing all no fire zones beforehand and unloading before you enter those zones.
Here are the three ways to safely unload your crossbow.
1. Use a Discharge Target
One of the most common ways of decocking your crossbow is to use what is called a discharge target. Discharge targets are small archery targets that are portable and have thick material that will stop a crossbow bolt at close range.
They are made to be shot close up and should not allow the bolt to penetrate past the target. When you’re done with hunting, you replace your hunting bolt with a bolt that has a field point. You lay the discharge target on the ground and fire your field point into the target.
The problem with these type of targets is that you must have them with you by the end of the day, so even if they’re smaller than a regular target, they still take up some room.
On the positive side, discharge targets are easy to use and not complex. You must simply have a safe place to fire your bolt to discharge the crossbow. Arrow recovery is simple as well. Most discharge targets are made to release field points easily.
2. Use an Unloading Bolt
Your second option to decocking your crossbow is to use an unloading bolt. Also called a crossbow discharge arrow, these are heavy duty arrows that are made to take the brunt of being fired into the ground repeatedly.
You remove your current arrow and replace the bolt with an unloading bolt. Then, you fire your crossbow, aiming it at the ground some six to ten feet away. (The ground should be soft and not rocky.) There are also biodegradable unloading bolts available that are one use only.
Discharge arrows can work well, but they need soft ground and there is also the possibility of them burying themselves deep into the dirt, or worse, skipping off the ground. An unloading bolt will take up a place in your quiver where you might have put another arrow instead.
3. Use a Crossbow Defuser
The last method of decocking your crossbow is to use a crossbow defuser. Crossbow defusers are devices that fit into your crossbow and hold the crossbow limbs so you can slowly release the tension in a safe and quiet manner.
Once you fit it in your crossbow as per manufacturer’s instructions, you dry fire the bow and then slowly crank the limbs so that they can return to their original, unfired position. Crossbow defusers are great, but you have to know how to properly fit and use them.
Not all will work the exact same way, which is why you need to read the manufacturer instructions carefully and understand how to use them to stay safe. Another issue is the ability to carry one in your kit. If you’re limited on space, you may reconsider using one.
Can you Unload Without Shooting?
At this point, you may be wondering if you can decock or unload your crossbow without shooting and without something like a crossbow defuser. Like many things, the answer is a qualified “maybe”.
You might be able to, but it is quite often difficult, especially with crossbows that have Anti-Dry Fire (ADF) mechanisms. The best thing to do if you wish to go this route is to read the manual that came with your crossbow and find out what you can and can’t do with it to discharge it safely and securely.
In many cases, trying to decock a crossbow using other than the above methods can be dangerous, so proceed at your own risk!